Windows 7 UMPC

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I have been thinking and considering the benefits and virtues of getting an ultra-mobile personal computer in recent days. The truth is that work can be done in a more leisurely environment without the necessities of tables & power sockets, which is something commonly needed by laptop users. However, the pool of UMPC devices that excites me is really small. I wish to have one with full physical qwerty keyboard. But the latest devices seem to do away with this while relying solely on virtual keyboards. The best OS for productivity is still Windows IMHO. Unfortunately, I have yet to find one that is reasonably priced. Just the other month, I stumbled upon this device (please refer to picture) at our local Courts Mammoth. It is called Windpad by MSI. For its price it is definitely not worth it. The whole performance was sluggish at best! Typing was horrible and to me, that’s the deal breaker… If you cannot type smoothly and fast using a particular tablet, then it’s not the right one for you. However, if you can pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard then that might be different. But one thing about Windows tablets is the need for a real digitizer or a stylus… For nothing beats the note taking ease & scribbling stuff at the spur of the moment.

For me, the hunt for the perfect UMP still goes on…

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A Phone Whatever You Call It

A good phone is one that does its primary function well. Phones are fundamentally communication devices. Speakers, voice fidelity, signal strength, SMS, MMS, screen display, ought to be good or very good. Anything less than good should not be acceptable. It is very sad that there are now compromises made on the main basic functionality of ‘feature phones’ or ‘smart phones’. Drop calls and poor signal strengths are unforgivable compromises that robs the value of having a phone around. Some could not be bothered (of course), but it is a matter of emergencies… when you need to make that important call, you do not want to be left in a lurch because your signal strength is affected due to poor antenna design. This is what makes the iPhone 4 and HTC Sensation a disappointment in my opinion. Never compromise on the main function. If you really want a game console, get an Xbox 360, PS3, or if you want a mobile console, get an iPod Touch or Nintendo 3DS. Why put yourself in a risk, and put others at risk too (if they are influenced by you in buying something they do not need).

A phone is a phone, and should be a phone first. Which is why I am starting to appreciate Nokia recently. They are slow in innovation and in applications, etc. But I never find myself questioning them on the areas that many are compromising on. Phones are now a toy for many. You get to play with it in many ways. But I hope people do think about the basic thing it ought to be first: a phone. Lives may depend on it.

Upgrade Issue (Passive Connection) using FTP for WordPress

This has been a recurring pain for my site (and all the sites hosted under my provider). I cannot seem to use the upgrade plugin, themes and wordpress function that has been introduced for quite a long time now. There has been plenty of updates given and fixes on this issue, but found them all inadequate for my particular problem.

The symptom is this:

Whenever I press the ‘upgrades’ for either WordPress, plugins or themes, I come to the FTP login page. I fill it up and press “Upgrade” only to find that it does nothing at all… it seems to be loading, but it will not refresh or change at all.

It happens no matter what ‘fix’ I employ.

Fix:

I found that I have to use Active FTP connection rather than Passive. What is the difference? I have no idea, for now (feel free to comment if you do know). What you need to do is make an amendment, very slight one as follows to this file: class-wp-filesystem-ftpext.php that is located in wordpress\wp-admin\includes

the original will have

@ftp_pasv( $this->link, true );

Change the “true” to “false” like below and re-upload the file to the appropriate directory on your ftp.

@ftp_pasv( $this->link, false );

Overwrite the previous file and try upgrading again.

Warning:

This works for me. Pretty easy, however, take note that if you do an Upgrade of WordPress, you will need to re-modify the new class-wp-filesystem-ftpext.php file again since the upgrade would replace the modified one. That is a minor annoyance.

All the best 🙂

Typing + Keyboard

One of the things that do a lot is typing. I type an average of 7,500 – 8,500 words weekly in the year 2010. It was a very exhausting work. Mind you that in uni days, having an assignment of 4,500 words would have taken the better part of the semester. Circumstances change, and for me, I am typing much more. What registered in my mind just this evening, as I was trolling the Digital Mall near my area, was this: do I need a more comfortable keyboard for work? Honestly speaking, after that self directed question, I found myself thinking hard on the occasions when I am doing what I am at this very minute doing: typing. Am I comfortable with the keyboard currently in use? What are some of the issues I have with this keyboard or what are the things I look for in a keyboard? I guess it is obvious to the reader that I have not been thinking much about these things, though they are important aspects of my work life.

As I perused through the many different models from Logitech and the nicely designed keyboard by Microsoft, I cannot help but wonder whether my typing and writing has always been affected in some manner by the keyboard in use. Honestly speaking, I am now feeling the weight of the keys and the resistance it gives me as I hammer down the keys with my fingers. Should I get a keyboard that allows my hands to rest upon a curved gradient design? Or should I just get one that is wireless, that gives me freedom to reposition the keyboard any way I want?

In the end, I did not get any of the sophisticatedly designed keyboards. Not because there is no use in getting one, but because I simply have not been paying attention on what I am looking for. Typing has been so natural and second nature to me that I have not cared much about the equipment used in writing. I should, because the comfort and tiredness of the hands come from all these small factors that are hardly raised up in the world. The way we input things have been taken for granted.

This will have an impact on us; especially in the age where companies are doing away with the physical keyboard and adopting the virtual one. No one has studied the impact such virtual ones would have upon us in the long run. Will the hammering against glass panels be more harmful than the pressing of physical ones that provide real tactile feedback, which would regulate the amount of pressure we put in typing? Only time would tell, but a total reliance on virtual typing would be foolish (yes, that applies to the new onslaught of Tablets).

Until I am a bit more certain of my own preferences, I will have to delay in upgrading or replacing my current ‘Prolink’ branded keyboard.

Thoughts on the Google Nexus S & Android

What people thought was the Nexus 2 (two) is now announced as the Nexus S. It is a collaboration between Google with Samsung. Full details about the phone can be read from http://www.google.com/nexus/#!/features. Being of a smartphone enthusiast and advocate, I would like to just share a few thoughts on the Google Nexus S and what I think should happen in the industry (and what we can do about it).

Connectivity

  • GSM
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 n/b/g
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • Assisted GPS (A-GPS)
  • microUSB 2.0

Comments:

While the inclusion of wifi (N) is expected, especially so late in 2010, it seems that the rest are just the mundane specs from early 2010. Sure the NFC seems like a new technology for the general masses outside of Japan, but according to one, http://www.androidpolice.com/2010/12/07/nfc-in-gingerbread-is-crippled-its-one-way-only-and-not-the-way-we-want/, it is only a one way communication (with no transmitter from the device itself), and that is just bad. It makes the device, a glorified tag/bar-code scanner. Bluetooth 3.0 has been supported in recent high-end smartphones from Samsung, which makes it saddening to note the lack of it here. Galaxy S scores points here over the Nexus S.

Display

4.0″ WVGA (480×800)
Contour Display with curved glass screen
Super AMOLED
235 ppi
Capacitive touch sensor
Anti-fingerprint display coating

Comments:

It is understandable that Samsung is still determined to enforce their view that SuperAMOLED is much better than the Retina Display of the iPhone. Granted that is the case, but why then would they put out the PPI as one of its features if it will not match or be anywhere close to the iPhone’s RD PPI score of 330? It would have been a real game changer if Samsung had pulled a higher resolution display, like Sharp’s tablet. It is not something that is unachievable given that they own the manufacturing plants. The contour display is an interesting design; I suspect it provides better viewing angles that normal displays cannot deliver well (plus, it is attractive physically).

Size and weight

63mm x 123.9mm x 10.88mm
129g

Comments:

Very thin and very light for a 4 inch display phone 🙂 Plus point indeed.

Hardware

Haptic feedback vibration
Three-axis gyroscope
Accelerometer
Digital compass
Proximity sensor
Light sensor

Comments:

These are the standard for current high end phones, so no complains, just a bit of a yawn, since it does not push any boundaries that already existed. The gaming ‘gyroscope’ of course is imported from the iPhone 4. I wonder whether Google/Samsung is merely being a ‘follower’ in this? They could have incorporated some 3D display or maybe even utilising the front camera for gesturing (ala, mini Kinect), or something. It seems too standard for my liking.

Processor and memory

1GHz Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) processor
16GB iNAND flash memory

Comments:

Here is the biggest disappointment; the same processor used by the iPhone (of course the iPhone’s is a modified form, re-modified by A4 in-house) and used by the Galaxy S and Wave. It is fast, but I doubt that it is faster than Texas Instrument’s processor used in the Droid X. An A9 processor would have blown everyone out of the water. My only reason (my assumption) would be the fine tuning of A9 to Android at the moment, which is not completed as yet. We see that problem in some of the released Tegra 2 tablet systems. This would have re-booted the gaming capabilities of Android, and to really ensure that the developer community would be charged up to try new things not only on the iPhone but on Android too. I have not much complain with the internal memory of 16GB, except that many are unhappy due to the problems of flashing (given that Android phones are mostly flashable and flash friendly). I personally think people are making too much of a complaint on something that is not important. How many of us totally use up the 16GB memory besides as a storage tool for our massive digital music library? In fact, the space saved could have been used for something else. Could have. Sigh.

Cameras and multimedia

Back-facing: 5 megapixels (2560×1920)
720 x 480 video resolution
H.264, H.263 MPEG4 video recording
Auto focus
Flash
Front-facing: VGA (640×480)
3.5mm, 4-conductor headset jack
(stereo audio plus microphone)
Earpiece and microphone
Software noise-cancellation

Comments:

Droid X’s three microphones was game changing and definitely was intriguing for people to consider  the need for good audio quality for calls and video recording. However, Nexus S seems like the standard fare; it gives of the, this is just for developers and not consumer use. An 8 megapixel camera would have been brilliant considering that Samsung’s lenses are some of the best in the industry. It is also telling when the best resolution for the video recording is only 720*480. The front facing is not surprising given that many Samsung Galaxy S models (in Malaysia at least) has the secondary camera.

Battery

1500 mAH Lithum Ion

Comments:

Good size. Wireless charging would be a good addition, considering how often one would charge their smartphones nowadays.

Comments on Other things:

The main emphasis of the Nexus S seems to be this: An average phone that shows what Google’s Android can do with average components. I am sure this will succeed (if indeed this is their emphasis) because the focus is more on Gingerbread (Android 2.3) then on the hardware itself. Which is a real pity since Samsung is a well established company and Google is already getting into the groove of what works and what does not. They should have also focused on the hardware component like how HTC HD2 was the ultimate HTC-Microsoft design which is able to compete with many current generation phones even though it is more than a year old in design. That is what is needed in this industry that is changing TOO rapidly; a product that has a more significant life cycle. The first Nexus was something like this; many still use it and are loyal to it (see XDA forums for most active devices to note this). Instead, we find Android 2.3 fragmented in some ways already; the gaming parts are geared more for the upcoming PSP phone by Sony Ericsson. It would have been nice to see Nexus S incorporate that right out of the box, maybe with some physical buttons for gaming. We can only hope. Every time Android seems to be making headway, iPhone comes out just slightly ahead. Google has the resources, I am sure, it’s more of the risk-taking aspect which they seem not willing to take.

User Focus:

Picture above: Dell’s Stage UI, Sony Ericsson’s Timescape – all are lacking in user customization though it is miles better than iPhone’s offering.

I find that the best thing that Android has to offer for consumers like me is the ability to customize the phone at the software level. Tweaking the user interface at the moment is quite a challenge for the uninitiated. There seems to be many ready 3rd party developers there, but not enough traction to make it more acceptable for even new smartphone users. The age of users being forced to conform to one UI design needs to be thrown away. Personalisation is one of the key things that many power users would definitely want, which new users would be terrified of trying. Something of course cannot change, like for example, the way users select applications (by pressing a button regardless of how the apps are ordered, whether from a drawer or something else). There is much also that can be offered for Tablet design.

I personally find the iPad layout to be limiting and unfriendly (wasting too much space). We have barely scratched what is the best UI and most usable UI for the tablet medium, and so also for the smartphones. I think OS providers should provide means for the users (not just 3rd party developers) to extend their customisations beyond widgets, wallpapers, and see how a person may change their preferences depending on the device type and size. I would be very interested in dabble in this area given time and resources. UI design, speed, efficiency and utility is one of the most unexplored area in the apps development industry. Android, though it is more open than others, still do not grant users that freedom or liberty to the basic user. Let the user decide. Let them explore without fear of harming the experience (cloud syncing could be an option or preview modes or demo modes). This is the way to go in 2011 and 2012, as I foresee it.

Full Review: CSL Spice Mi700 DroidPad (Camera, Phone & the Rest) Part 3

It took a long while to get this final part out, but here it is. In this last article, I will try to be succinct in all the areas that were particularly important to me (and thus, to you readers too, I hope). Once again, I would like to thank CSL for loaning me a review unit.

I have had this device for nearly a month, and have put it under many conditions. Before evaluating the whole thing as a package, let’s look at some other important areas not covered before:

Camera

(DroidPad 3MP sample shot on the left, compared to HTC Dream 3.15MP sample shot on the right)

There two cameras on the unit. One is a 3.0 MP back facing camera (right smack at the middle) and the other is a lower VGA camera that is front facing. Frankly, the camera is alright. Granted that it is not good enough for you to replace your camera (which device would?), but it does make for some good quick shots. I compared a still photo that I had on a similar subject matter (taking a picture off the desktop screen) made on my old HTC Dream (sporting a similar 3.15MP camera). Even with the .15 camera size difference that should give the Dream an edge, I find that the picture from the DroidPad is still clearer. Maybe it is the algorithm used, but things are sharper on the DroidPad camera. Video is nothing to shout about, with the capability to capture VGA video at a paltry 16 frames per second. Not smooth and I found the audio not syncing correctly to the video by a few miliseconds.

The front facing VGA camera is just that… a VGA camera. It is sufficient for making video calls (if you can find a software that supports it on Android). I tried a few but could not manage to get any to work, except for using the test center modes. In that situation, I found the video quality to be acceptable, though not great (it’s VGA). You can use the front facing camera to record video too. Though it records at VGA quality, yet the fps is quite low, at 8 frames per second. It is not worth using, unless you really have something at the spur of the moment to capture on the front facing side. (A sample of video taken using the Front and Back facing cameras can be downloaded in their original format from: http://www.multiupload.com/JNPJWF8YET – 8+MB file size)

The main complaint of the use of the camera comes down to Android itself. It is the stock version that does provide some level of tweaking. For the main camera, you get the full options of selecting the ‘Picture Size’ (3MP, 2MP, 1MP, VGA and QVGA), ‘Picture Quality’ (superfine, etc.), ‘Color Effect’ (Mono, Sepia and Negative), ‘Metering Mode’, ‘Anti Banding’, ‘Saturation’ (5 levels given), Contrast (5 levels), Sharpness (3 levels), Brightness (7 levels), Grid mode and toggling the shutter sound.  The front facing camera has lesser options of course since its priority is not for normal picture taking.

Phone Functionalities


Making calls on the DroidPad is as simple as it is on other Android devices. However, let me caution the potential user; do not try to use it as a normal phone by pressing it against your ears, it just does not work that way. The best way is to use the speaker to listen and to speak normally towards the microphone on the side. It works in most situations except in a noisy environment.

Reception is actually quite good. It does not drop in signal strength as much as my other phone devices. Maybe the size of the device has something to do with it, but whatever it is, it works well as a phone. The best option I guess would be to pair it with a bluetooth device. I found that the headset given was inadequate. The quality is horrendous and not worth using to receive calls.

I am very particular with the speed in which calls are received, and I can honestly tell you that it is almost instantaneous. Regardless of what application you might be using, the DroidPad quickly switches to phone mode at the first ring. This was and still is a problem for Android devices running on lower CPUs like the dreaded MSM7201A, 528Mhz processors, which gave a 1 second lag or more. Whether or not you will use this as a phone depends on your comfort level in using a device this big. Those who have used HTC’s Shift would find this a better alternative.

GPS


Like I mentioned before in the earlier part, the GPS map installed (with free 1 year service) is one of the most horrible looking software I have ever seen. The User Interface is archaic and does not give much information for the user. I ended up using Google Map as my default GPS map navigator. The GPS performed adequately. It is not fast by any means, requiring more than two minutes to get a solid fix (within an accuracy of 5 meters). It is not terribly slow either. However, if you want a cheaper and yet better alternative (only applicable for Asian users), download Ndrive. It is almost similar to Garmin’s GPS navigation app. I found that using Ndrive was a breeze, and because of the screen size, navigating in the car becomes less of a hassle. The only problem is to get a proper mount for the DroidPad since it would be a pain to hold it one hand for long.

Data Connection

One of my other gripes that I find with the DroidPad is the inconsistent WiFi connection. Every time it comes out of the lock screen, the WiFi connection will not re-connect itself automatically. To solve this, one must turn it off (via the power control widget for fast access) and turn it back on again. It is irritating, and I wonder whether I am the only one facing this issue. Besides this one issue, there is nothing much to complain about the WiFi. It is fast. I managed to update all 17 applications from the Market in less than 15 minutes. Not bad right? Some of the apps were big sized ones (mostly games like Zenonia which clocks in at over 10MB).

I have not tested the 3G connection on this (I cut my data connection some time back) but based on feedback, it seems to be performing adequately.

Multi-touch

Although we have noted earlier that the screen is average, it is another thing when it comes to multi-touch. The device suffers the same problem encountered in the Nexus One when you use the MultiTouch Visualizer 2 app. From the video uploaded here: 

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3TslDLrhQw), we can see that the points become confuse when they converge, often misalignment will occur, followed by the flipping of point identification. This means that the device has a flawed multi-touch implementation. It will not affect simple applications like pinch-to-zoom gestures, but definitely on more delicate applications (e.g. games) it will be more obvious.

USB On The Go

Surprise, surprise… the DroidPad does support USB OTG. Basically, this allows the user to connect the DroidPad to any USB storage device, like your thumbdrives. Very handy indeed if you want to transfer files over without the hassle of communing with a middle device. The caveat on this is the need for a USB Mini A cable that is short (not more than half a meter). Some have tested it with great success (working with many different USB devices). For a list of tested USB devices on the DroidPad take a look at here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=8819448&postcount=163. The forum thread even have links to buy the cables from Ebay, if you are interested. The small downside is the lack of unmounting function for USB OTG. You need to just disconnect the device from the cable to unmount it.

Hacking

The thrill of Android as an mobile OS comes down to its ‘hackability’. If this is not your cup-of-tea, then you might want to skip this section. Anyway, based on my impromptu visit to the CSL headquarters in Malaysia, I was told by both the Marketing deparment and CEO that CSL is committed in developing for the DroidPad and to help independent developers to utilising the device to its full potential. Unfortunately, this is a hard thing to do when the product sold is not within the control of CSL. Ultimately, the firmware upgrades would come from Foxconn’s subsidiary which produced and developed the DroidPad (or whatever the actual model name is). This is also one reason (I suspect) that the two developers from CSL were unable to reply to my queries on the firmware and on root access possibility. Enough about CSL’s involvement or openness on this front. What about the device itself? Can it be modified? Honestly speaking, the fear was that there would be too few developers who would be interested in the device itself, to find ‘root access’ which would allow users to permanently modify parts of the firmware. Fortunately, root access was found within the week of launch in Malaysia.

Along with root access, the small community of DroidPad users have also found a way to install a custom recovery to ensure that the device will not be ‘bricked’. These are the firstfruits of an increasing acts of making the DroidPad more efficient. Already there are some in the small community who have gotten rid of all the localised apps (which were irritating to say the least). It is only a matter of time before the kernel will allow for over and under-clocking of the processor chip. This certainly would mean that the lifecycle of this device is lengthened. With this in mind, the potential of a more polished DroidPad is a reality. It merely takes time and commitment from the development community. If you are interested in such matters, do visit http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=793071 for the latest news on modifying/hacking the DroidPad.

Videos of Walkthrough of the Device:

It took some time before I managed to get this up, but here it is –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XsdPapTJZo – Simple walkthrough beginning from the Homescreen (LauncherPro), Typing using a Note App, Ebook Reader and testing of Live Wallpapers. Sorry for the poor video quality. From my Android HTC HD2 device.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaKuB93Zg6E – Simple walkthrough testing the Music App and the speaker loudness. This is followed by a simple use of the browser.

CONCLUSION:


Here comes the hard part of the review: the verdict. Is this device worth buying? Can it stand up to the onslaught of Android tablets that will surely come either in Q4 or Q1 of 2011? The answer is never so straightforward as a yes or a no.

The Pros of this device are:

  • Capacitive screen (beats all the generic resistive android tablets out there)
  • It is small enough to be portable (at 7″ inch)
  • It is big enough to read websites without much problem (Sorry Mr. Jobs, but 7″ does work)
  • GPS equipped
  • USB On-The-Go
  • Expandable MicroSD slot
  • 2 Cameras – Video Calling
  • Hackable
  • Large RAM space
  • Sturdy Build
  • Relatively cheaper than Samsung Tab

The Cons for this device are:

  • Screen is only average and has too low resolution
  • Bulky and not slim enough
  • CPU is too low for the price point
  • Multitouch problems
  • Accessories included are redundant (car charger given is the wrong voltage, headphones are of poor quality)
  • Redundant applications included (merely shortcuts to website based applications)
  • Developer support uncertain
  • Buggy software experience
  • Price point a bit expensive
  • Stock Interface not friendly (this is solved by installing ADWLauncher or LauncherPro)

Some of these things may not be a dealbreaker for you, but for myself personally, I find that the price is the biggest problem for such a device. Will it come down? Eventually, but by that time, there would be newer products (maybe even the next iteration of the DroidPad with Snapdragon chip). The current price at RM1,599 (USD507) is not convincing enough, especially when the experience is not as polished as the iPad (even though it offers more functionalities than the iPad). However, when you compare this device with the Samsung Tab, especially with its price point (which is around USD700 and above) then you may have a good deal on hand. I find that that if one or two weaknesses were solved (particularly relating to the screen resolution), the USD507 might just be a good steal! I reckon that USD400 would be the best price for this device to sell like hot cakes.

Based on a simple survey and feedback from people who have already bought the device, the general opinion seems to be pretty positive. Most people were quite satisfied with the purchase (especially after Samsung Tab’s price was revealed). As usual, make sure you test the unit out for yourselves before making that call!

All the best!

Additional Info:

It is most unfortunate, but I doubt that CSL will provide support of any kind for this device. It is just not possible when they do not even have developers in charge of the kernel updates. I suspect that whatever support will have to come down from Foxconn themselves. And remember that this is easily seen when the only customization done on the unit is the introduction of ‘CSL apps’ that are frankly quite useless. These are not enough to differentiate the product from other regions. If you do consider buying the unit, you will have to rely on independent developers (on XDA or equivalent) for more efficient updates to the firmware. There are many things that need to be changed (it is hard to know where to begin listing the bugs).

For myself, I believe that Google is telling the truth concerning Android 2.2’s incompatibility with tablets. It is sad but a reality that many have to face up to. Android Honeycomb (supposedly 3.0) will be the one to watch for. Until then, it is not worth committing more than RM1.3k on a subpar experience that has not been customized to fit the target market. But again, this is my opinion 🙂

An Interlude: User Feedback on CSL Spice Mi700 DroidPad

I am want to finish up my extensive review on the Mi700. I would like to get some real consumer feedback on the device before writing the closing conclusions on this. I need your help (especially those who bought the phone/tablet). Even if you did not buy the product, I would appreciate your feedback on the product:

Those who bought:
1) Are you happy with the product?
2) Do you think it was worth your money?
3) What do you wish CSL would change in the product?

Those who did not buy:
1) What was the dealbreaker for you?
2) What could CSL change to make you buy the product?

Thank you. Acknowledgement will be given to those who have given constructive feedback on this matter.